It was 1961 and two boys from Maroubra Bay High in Sydney are talking after school.

One is Peter Hood, the drummer in a new band called The Atlantics. 

The other, Jim Skiathitis, is an up and coming guitarist who sings songs like Sweet Sixteen at parties. 

They chat for a while, until Hood suddenly asks a question that sounds more like ultimatum. Could Skiathitis learn barre chords on his electric guitar? And if he does he can then join the band.

Telling the story this week 60 years on, as The Atlantics release their latest album, Still Making Waves, Jim Skiathitis laughs at the memory: “I said I could, of course … in fact, it took me a couple of weeks to do it and it wasn’t easy.”

Still Making Waves by The Atlantics is out January 26.(Supplied: The Atlantics)

But did they immediately have the sound we now associate with The Atlantics — of echo-drenched guitar making fans think they were surfing, with perfect waves breaking on an endless beach? Well, not quite, Skiathitis says.

“As we got better instruments — like our Fender guitars and amps — we did. At first, we covered songs by bands like The Shadows from Britain. But then we started writing songs. Peter Hood and I had this affinity for writing songs together.”

Better still, the crowds that turned up to see them liked what they wrote.

“It was exciting, we had our share of screaming girls, we were a powerful band, no pussy-footing,” Skiathitis says. “We were loud and different to other bands. We were more forceful.” 

Australia’s first global rock act

Playing live and playing in the studio to make a record are two very different things. CBS, though, were confident the band could make the transition and gave them a contract. 

Skiathitis can still remember what it was like going into the studios for the first time. “Scary,” he says, laughing loudly. “For young guys, being in the studio was exciting but there was pressure. You had to play live and record it and mistakes were a big no-no.”

Their first single was well received — well enough for the record company to allow them to record a second single. Their choice of song was crucial the second time around. That song was Bombora, a surging surf instrumental. 

“We virtually lived at the beach. Peter [Hood] did surf and we all lived at the beach,” Skiathitis recalls. “As we heard the American bands the sound just evolved.”

Taking its subject matter from the growing surf craze and its title Bombora from the Indigenous word for a submerged rock that sits out of the line-up, making waves break in bigger surf, it immediately grabbed producer Sven Libaek’s attention.

The track quickly established itself in the top 40 then kept going all the way to number one. It stayed there for eight weeks. Then, in a move that stunned the band and the record company, audiences overseas heard and it and loved it. In response it was released in Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. It even charted in Italy. Suddenly The Atlantics were Australia’s first international rock act.

Today, Bombora is considered one of the top five surf guitar tracks ever.

“We were a different sound,” Skiathitis says. “The American bands used reverb units, we had echo units. It’s very different sounding. We had a stronger sound than many bands.”

When everything changed

The Atlantics were different in another way, too. Not surprisingly given their Greek and European backgrounds, their compositions had a different feel. Fans and critics felt they heard the sound of the bouzouki in Skiathitis’s playing and the feel of eastern Europe in his compositions with Peter Hood.

“I think it was just in-built,” he says. “I think everything I wrote had the sound of the East, with those minor chords. It was in our upbringing. Perhaps not all of the songs but quite a few.”

There was, however, a drawback to being migrants in Australia during the 60s. “We got a lot of the old ‘wog’ thing, it was rampant in those days,” Skiathitis says. “We were all Europeans, of course, and we weren’t everyone’s cup of tea or flavour.”



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By Charlotte Campbell (Surfer's Paradise)

Charlotte Campbell (Surfer's Paradise)